It�s rare for an album to catch my ear on first listen. Usually I have to hear it three or four times before I can really form an opinion on it. But sometimes an album hits me like the bolt of lightning crackling from the sky on this album cover. If you�re a power metal fan, go get this album now. It�s that good.
Though Kiuas has been around since 2000 and recorded a number of EPs, this is their first full-length album � well, at eight songs and 42 minutes, it�s more like an extended EP by today�s standards. That�s a problem, since I wanted this album to keep going. At first listen, I thought this was a power metal outfit with a death metal fetish, as the title track breaks out in blast beats and some melodic death riffing. That in itself was interesting to me. Singer Ilja Jalkanen sounded a bit like Zachary Stevens with a heavy accent on the track � another point in the album�s favor in this Savatage fan�s estimation.
But that was just the beginning. Through the course of the album, the music takes sidetrips into medieval sounds, Viking metal, neoclassical and a few other styles. It�s all tied together with an old-fashioned hard rock sensibility, due in large part to Jalkanen�s delivery. That old school feel is particularly evident on �No More Sleep for Me� and �Warrior Soul.� Whereas most power metal bands feel the need to have a singer with a �pretty� voice, Jalkanen puts a little more grit and power into his vocals. He can pull off the traditional high-pitched harmonies, but he can also snarl and scream when the music calls for it. He claims bluesmen Buddy Guy and Howlin� Wolf among his influences, which seems a bit odd for a guy from Finland, but you can hear a bit of that blues tone in his voice and it puts him miles beyond the same-sounding vocalists that dominate the genre. It proves that you can sound like a man and still be a great power metal vocalist.
There�s a great deal of Manowar influence on the album, particularly on songs like �On Winds of Death We Ride� and �Warrior Soul.� If you�re not into the warrior metal schtick, don�t worry, it�s not quite as over-the-top as some of the acts out there. Besides this album is so musically solid, they could be singing �Jesus Loves Me,� and it would sound cool. In fact, the only weak song on the album is the semi-ballad, �Thorns of a Black Rose,� and even it�s not a bad song. Mikko Salovaara lays down some gorgeous acoustic guitar work on the soft parts that raises it above the melodrama of the rest. I was also impressed with Atte Tanskanen�s key work. It adds a great deal of atmosphere to the songs, but it doesn�t stick out, even when it plays a primary role in the song. That seems obvious, but if you�ve listened to a lot of power metal, you�ll know that not every keyboard player gets it.
Kiuas pulls out a new surprise on almost every track, adding a variety of elements to their music without ever sacrificing their identity. Whether it�s the Malmsteen-like sweep arpeggios of �Warrior Soul� or the chugging Meshuggah-style riffs on �And the North Star Cried,� it�s obvious that Kiuas knows what their strengths are as a band and they use their influences well to accentuate those.
This is how power metal should be done, and if Kiuas doesn�t quickly rise to the top ranks of the genre, something is seriously out of whack.
Fred Philips 20.6.2005